Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Fanon and the question of ‘white theory’

It is undeniable that Frantz Fanon identifies European, or “white” culture as racist to the core. It is equally undeniable that he affirmed the likelihood of the discourses of knowledge emanating from this culture being equally racist. It stands to reason that a culture, which regards itself as being superior to all others, given its supposedly “glorious” history of conquest of other nations and races through war, colonisation, science and technology, would have left a repository of its racist beliefs and attitudes in the very sciences (particularly human and social) that are its putative instruments of conquest and of the achievement of superiority.

This is not difficult to understand if one considers the provenance of one’s beliefs in the cultural situation where one (anyone) grows up. And if one happens to be from a different culture, but finds oneself in a western cultural situation, your view of your own culture is bound to be fundamentally affected by its standing in the value-judgments of your host culture (in this case western or “white”). As Fanon puts it, alluding to the kind of cultural osmosis that takes place in a predominantly western context, from which a black person, initially from an African cultural setting, is not exempt (Black Skin, White Masks, p. 118):

“In other words, there is a constellation of postulates, a series of propositions that slowly and subtly — with the help of books, newspapers, schools and their texts, advertisements, films, radio — work their way into one’s mind and shape one’s view of the world of the group to which one belongs.”

Summing up Fanon’s insights in the Foreword to the 2008 Pluto Press edition of Black Skin, White Masks, Ziauddin Sardar says (p. XV-XVI): “If western civilization and culture are responsible for colonial racism, and Europe itself has a racist structure, then we should not be too surprised to find this racism reflected in the discourses of knowledge that emanate from this civilization and that they work to ensure that structural dominance is maintained … All these disciplines and discourses are the products of a culture which sees itself hierarchically at the top of the ladder of civilization; they postulate all that the world contains and all that the world has produced and produces, is by and for the white man. This is why it is taken as an a priori given that the white man is the predestined master of this world”. [The italicised parts are quotations from Fanon’s text; B.O.]

And yet, the very same Fanon who indicts western discourses as being racist, singles out some of these discourses for facilitating the task of the imminent revolution, which is aimed at restoring the dignity of all human beings, especially those downtrodden in the course of the history of colonisation by the West. These discourses include the iconoclast thinking of Marx, Freud, Sartre and Nietzsche – he was a trained psychiatrist and knew Freudian psychoanalysis, after all, and although he died young, of leukaemia, he had absorbed a great deal of the philosophical and social science tradition of the West, albeit critically. The most important thing he learned from Marx is that it is not sufficient merely to think critically about the world; it is imperative to change it.

He could appropriate these theories – philosophical and psychoanalytical – because not all theories or philosophies that have been produced by the West are cut of the same cloth. Some “renegade western” thinkers are so critical of the “master discourses” deriving from Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Hegel (to mention only some salient figures from the western canon) that they reject large parts of the epistemic heritage of the West, if not the whole thing. In his early work, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Nietzsche, for instance, identifies western culture with the lamentable hypertrophy of reason, or what he dubs “Socratism” (which I would prefer to call “Platonism”, given Socrates’s philosophically salutary insistence on the docta ignorantia, that the only thing humans can know with certainty is how little they know).

Similarly Freud rejects the rationalist bias in western culture and insists on the unrecognised, but crucial role of the irrational in human subjectivity – a psychoanalytical approach that Fanon himself employed to come to grips with the effects of colonisation on the subjectivity of colonised people, and to understand the significant differences between the colonised and the coloniser in psychoanalytic terms (see for instance Chapter 6 of Black Skin, White Masks). Add to this that many contemporary black thinkers employ western philosophy and theory against the imperial excesses of the West, among them the black American thinker and unflinching social activist, Cornell West, under whose guidance (among others) I was privileged to study at Yale University in the 1980s (see his books, Race Matters and Restoring Hope – Conversations on the Future of Black America, for example).

In light of the above it is therefore patently absurd to regard ALL theory and/or philosophy that is of “white” or “western” origin – that is, was formulated by individuals who were born and/or educated in western societies – as being “racist” in the sense that Fanon gave to the concept in relation to what one might call “mainstream” theory. And yet, some people persist in doing so, including people in academia who should know better. Without making the important distinction that Fanon evidently made, some go as far as labelling anyone who teaches western philosophy and/or theory as “racist” because they putatively teach irredeemable “white theory” (the theories of the erstwhile “colonial masters”).

Here I have not even touched upon the most radical of the theories which, although of “western” origin, have introduced a new “logic”, as it were, to challenge mainstream ways of thinking in western culture. These are the range of poststructuralist theories that count Nietzsche and Freud among their progenitors, and which have been variously formulated by thinkers such as Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Jean-Luc Nancy, Kaja Silverman, John Caputo, Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciére, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, Ian Parker, Claire Colebrook, Luce Irigaray, Kaja Silverman, Cornell West, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, Slavoj Zizek, Susan Faludi, Leonard Shlain, Naomi Klein, David Pavon Cuellar, Ian Buchanan, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt and others. I have often referred to some of them in these posts.

Ranciére’s political thought mercilessly exposes the so-called (mainly western) “democracies” as being hollow and hypocritical, more deserving of the epithet “oligarchies”, for example, while Silverman has mercilessly uncovered the patriarchal texture of western cultural artefacts such as film in her works, including The Acoustic Mirror. Palestinian-born, but western-educated Edward Said has equally relentlessly exposed the racist, “orientalist” bias of western culture in (among others) his book, Orientalism. I could elaborate on the critical work of other figures as well, but there is no space here for that. The point is that there exists a wide range of theoretical appropriations of western or “white” theories/theory that are themselves of broadly, but critically, western origin. To pretend otherwise would be to acknowledge one’s own, limited, vision.

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    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/ Paul Whelan

      If you permanently expect ‘the revolution’, the imminent arrival of a just world, or the imminent destruction of the present unjust one – even more if you work for it – it is certain you will spend life dissatisfied if not actually disoriented, waiting always, like Mr Micawber, for something to turn up.
      Fanon was hardly likely to escape this tendency given his circumstances and it is to his credit that he saw that, in fact, a culture is unlikely to be ‘rotten to the core’, but always includes (if it does not actually accommodate them) people who think differently. 2000 years of ‘western’ culture is not a history of uniformity. Greek culture was not uniform, nor was Rome’s nor the Han Dynasty’s. These are mere conveniences of thought and reference.
      The failing is in those who choose not to see it, not in ‘western culture’. It is a failing because it is available to anyone prepared to read history without starting with a ‘theory’.
      The reason academics, who should know better, do not see it is because they mix politics with scholarship. There is no reason they should not, as long as the rest of us remember it does lead to what you rightly say, Bert, is the patently absurd.

    • ianshaw

      Classical logic and set theory are part of the “white” Master Discourses you’ve mentioned and the great iconoclast the iranian-American Lotfi Zadeh challenged the bivalent nature of classical logic by introducing fuzzy logic which is multivalued. It was also found that the way of Eastern thinking (distinct from philosophy and more of psychology) and even the languages involved are very much in conformance with this multivalued logic that can distinguish a virtually infinite number of transitory values between the bivalent extremes. THis disocvery has also had a sizable influence on science and engineering, both being Western inventons. However, many contemporary Western scientists refused to acknowledge the Eastern connection in a latent but still present racism.

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    • Bernpm

      Why should whites have to defend themselves against the negative or accusing opinions of other racial/cultural groups in the world?

      I have reached the state of mind that I do not care what is being said or thought of ‘the whites” as a group. Generalizing opinions have little value in a world of individual opinions and varying habits within population groups. My defense against “attacks” of this nature is to ridicule the comment and change the subject. Call me arrogant? As the saying goes: ” beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This is valid for many other comments.

      Articles like this do seem to touch on the same issues and conclusions, but just in a different phraseology.

    • Mark Linderoth

      Thanks for the article. I think the fashion of labelling everything Western as being ‘bad’ is an emotional reaction to it being labelled ‘superior’ for so many decades in countries such as South Africa. In addition, there’s the issue of finding ones identity post culture-clash, that largely saw the traditional African way of life undermined by the flashier, city state culture of the West. And apartheid gave the concept of seperate developement an ugly face. I would love to see folk finding their ‘identity’ in the common cause of South Africans in the modern world, but perhaps some wounds are still bleeding, and folk are unwilling to heal, forgive and trust.

    • John West

      Fair enough. A balanced look at the state of things cultural, both good and bad. Fair enough indeed.

      No, you cannot possibly attribute bad to a specific culture. Nor can you attribute good in like manner. Nevertheless, it does remain that within European culture, predominantly from the reign of Gloriana to the present (a Nobelist and polygenist has recently sold his award in the face of condemnation for promulgating racist notions as fact by his peers), scientific racism has been advanced by Europe’s foremost thinkers. I submit:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism

      So one of the many questions that loom large in these so-called “race” debates is just exactly how was the African factored into the “race” equation as the perpetual malin genie in the first place? Why the need for this fiction called “the black man” in the first place? Ultimately, who benefits from such an absurd social construct? Instead, what emerged was a thinly veiled apologia for thoughts that need better analysis. The author did not cover these and other important questions?

      May I digress here to ask a question about the author? Might I infer from the author’s surname — Olivier — Huguenot cultural beginnings, a French protestant group that might, in at least some particulars, be referred to as the then “niggers” of France or at least treated in parallel fashion? Could he not have drawn upon an intimate history of subjugation rather than one currently so far away culturally and socially?

      Whatever his cultural history, I did detect the tone of apologia for a cultural pattern that is targeting a subgroup and causing continuing pain and struggle. And unless scientific racism, or religious racism, for that matter, is repudiated, we’re whistling past the cemetery in any discussions on the matter, even with balanced commentary of the sort set forth by the author.

      Something on the order of an encyclical a la John XXIII, absolving the Jews of any connection with the death of Christ but in the case of the African lifting the burden of false social thought based on color would go a long way to bring about a resolution to this continuing social quagmire, oddly enough still going on not in Alabama but even on the African continent, of all places!

    • Peter Watermeyer

      These being my focus, I would categorically refute that science and engineering can be described (historically or in any sense) as Western inventions, indeed any type of invention. Like mathematics itself, these arts and the ability to utilise them are fundamental to the structure of the universe. The differentiating inheritance of homo sapiens. So they transcend race, geography or culture (arguably even language), the only difference being in the (transitory) development and application. Who are these contemporary Western scientists? – A narrowly-educated lot, I would venture.

    • v_3

      The more I learn about whites and the more whites I get to know the more convinced I am that they are just like blacks. Or gays, men, women, Hindus, Argentinians, Greeks, Muslims, Christians, Durbanites, doctors, teachers or any other random demographic: individuals within the group differ totally (Darwinianism in action at the label members fill different environmental niches or develop randon mutations/differences) and the more you stereotype them (have prejudices) the more exceptions you find.

    • v_3

      Before we argue about “white culture” should we not define what it is, and not just from the agenda-serving perspetive or vocal racists?

      Is it represented by, say the skeptical empiricism of a Richard Dawkins or the fundamentalism of the USA “Tea Party” (which disputes the Theory of Evolution as it is against their Bible)? Are its Greek roots those of Sparta or of Athens? Is its economics those of Friedman, Keynes or Marx? Wall Street or the Occupy Movement?

      In trying to grasp “these people”, why are whites the only people to voluntarily ban the slave trade? The very trade on which their Industrial Revolution was based (i.e. plantation slaves in the USA South providing cotton).

      Is its music that of Bach and Beethoven or the Rolling Stones (based on “negro” blues) or Johnny Clegg?

      As for white racism, why are some of the worst insults one can hurl “vandal” or “Hun”?

      While not having either Dr Fanon’s or Prof Olivier’s erudition, it seems to me the only constants in “white” or western culture and economics are the post-Enlightenment ascendency of the individual (still in progress) and the free market of ideas. “These people” borrow/take shamelessly from other cultures maths and Greek learning from the Arabs, popular music from the Afro-Americans, spices from the East, books (in translation) from every corner of the planet, silks and paper from the Chinese, religion from the Semites, words from other languages, etc, etc – a Darwinian process if you will. They also, without hesitation incorporate/trade with Slavic Russia, the Orient and “the South”.

    • Ityoppya Seba Love

      Jah love. Give thanks and praises for a great article. I enjoyed reading it as I am a student of post modern and post structural social theory. I often encounter arguments against White/Western Social theory and philosophy. And I agree that these theories and philosophies are generated from a racist mindset that seeks to place whites at the top of humanity with the rest of us especially black folks at the very bottom. And unfortunately, I have not met any whites who teach these theories and philosophies who believes differently or who act in a way that allows any challenge to these racist assumptions. And while Fanon and West are acknowledged for their accomplishments and as being peripherally “one of the guys” they are still relegated to the default “other” or as being lesser than or different to the great white hope. I don’t accept Fanon or West or even hooks as providing the ultimate anti Western/White supremacist ideas at all. These are folks who don’t seek to shake up the status quo in academia or in Western letters/scholarship. They have their roles as the integrated souls and they play their part. For example, Frantz Fanon was married to a white woman, and he openly advocated an adoption of white modern cultural lifestyle to Algerians and he advised the Algerian women to unveil in order to help the struggle move forward. I think that the frustruated lives that the non white thinkers that you mentioned in the article, mainly Fanon and West are proof that we have a long way to go before we find a meeting point between White Western thinking, epistemology, philosophies and the rest of us who make up the vast majority of the world. For me, we can start by acknowledging the role and the contributions of Africans specifically Egyptians, Malians and Sudanese scholars of the ancient world to Greek and Roman philosophies which are the bases of modern and post modern White Western ways of thinking and being. I fault you in part too for perpetuating these racist acts because you are in South Africa and you should know better. And by ignoring the contributions of these Ancient Africans you play to the same racism that generated Apartheid in South Africa and the White colonization of the rest of the world. I hope and pray that you can remedy this problem in future works. Blessed love.

    • Richard

      Might I ask, if they are fundamental to the structure of the universe, do tadpoles also experience them? This is not a facetious comment, I wonder that you do not consider that all knowledge and theory is simply theory created by certain people, largely Western. Do you think that understanding or knowledge are a priori impressions? If so, how do you account for changing understanding, or more accurate and efficacious models (think of medical treatment, say)? For instance, would you turn to a witchdoctor trained in African medicine, or a Western scientist?

    • Richard

      Probably best to look at the matter according to axes; for instance, compare architectural developments in the West with other civilisations, the idea of the relationship between the individual and the state, the ideas of ownership, separating superstition out from science, etc.

    • http://the-imagine-nation.co.za/ Heinrich

      Racism is merely an ancient political thing. One will always try to dominate the other. The point to remember, though, is that it is an individual choice to acknowledge, indulge in or promote racism. The prevailing political climate will always dictate the direction, and it is this (polarizing) influence that we should resist.

      Manifestations of superiority are not only interracial – it is most prevalent inter-class. India is but one example, but this trend is global.

    • Drew Smith

      Instead of complaining about your perceived inferiority, why don’t you invent something, devise a new political ism, create a great new financial model? Asking for some credit for what the Egytians did 5000-7000 years ago is simply not going to cut the mustard. Black African has simply not done enough to be seen on par with Western or Chinese culture. Have you noticed the Chinese don’t have the same sense of inferiority? Every wondered why?

      Think about everything around you? From your house, car, phone, clothes, TV, money, internet, PC, capitalism, socialism, communism to the books you read and the instruments your favorite artists plays. None, or very very few stem from Africa. Why is that? It surely can’t be just because the Europeans wrote history.

      Until Black Africa stops whining and gets off its backside and actually contributes more than labour and raw materials, it simply be won’t be seen on par with the great modern civilizations? No amount of long winded letter writing will change that.

      How about a new propulsion system to replace the internal combustion engine? The world needs some of that.

    • CapnVan

      “I could elaborate on the critical work of other figures as well, but there is no space here for that.”

      Bert!
      These are the InterToobs! There’s always space, particularly for text, good sir.

      But I will happily grant you a replacement of “time” for “space”.

      Even if we’d then have to get into the issue of space-time, and then that would devolve into a philosophical digression on the true meaning of current physics, and then we’d probably get dragged back around again to…

      OK.

      Right you are, sir. There’s no space for that.

      All the best in 2015! (If we can really call it that, oh please, don’t start, Me?! You were the one…)

      ;-p

    • Robyn Burger

      Ian, correct me if I wrong. The yield of multivalent logic for human progress still has to be proven, not just demonstrated. Intuitively the notion of multi valence logic is very appealing but, to my knowledge, the Mathematics of the science and engineering still has to conform to underlying axioms which are universal. How could this in any sense be regarded as ‘latent but still present racism’?

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/ Paul Whelan

      I fear the answer to Richard’s query, would you turn to a witch doctor or western medicine, is all too often to accuse the questioner of being a racist and/or to point out that ‘western science’ produced Hiroshima. This is what I meant by my earlier comment that mixing politics with scholarship is not going to produce any useful addition to knowledge.

    • http://markwhelansliteraryblog.wordpress.com/ Mark Whelan

      I am pleasantly surprised at the arguments raised in this post. But, it feels empowering to be able to say this now, I cannot and will not agree with most of the arguments raised.

      The pejorative anti-Western (‘white’) arguments while necessarily relying on Western philosophical thought is valid and necessary.

      No mention, however, was made by the writer of prescribed African and Eastern philosophical writings which people such as Said and Fanon may have used to form their arguments. Perhaps he has not read them yet?

      Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to read this.

    • Zolani Ngwane

      Fanonisms, White theory and other
      native nonsenses

      As always, Bert has made another
      characteristically bold and very important intervention – this time on the
      judgments, sometimes fruitful and sometimes ridiculous, that some
      intellectuals, loosely of a Fanian persuasion (Bert is clear about a gross
      misreading of Fanon within the ranks here), habitually bestow upon “ALL theory
      and/or philosophy that is of “white” or “western” origin.” I agree with Bert’s
      reading of Fanon and I really appreciated his staging of the dilemma of those
      who often find they must fire aspersions at a system of thought to which they
      owe the very terms of their own self-objectification. It was in reading the
      rest of the commentary on his piece, however, that I began to think Fanon’s
      work was perhaps an unfortunate platform to talk about what in the discussion
      quickly reduced to all things white – forms of thought, culture, existence,
      teaching habits, you name it. My concern (and I have no doubt Bert would share
      the misgiving) is about a species of essentialism that collapses “white theory”
      (ways that white people feel, think and act within a range of particular socio-historical
      experiences) with that construct we call, with a measure of justification,
      Western Thought; the latter embodying, at least heuristically, a complex of
      historical relationships (material and discursive) that have marked the uneven
      emergence of our modern world under the ambit of capitalism. It is the reducing
      of all this to “white theory” that I find problematic – a reductionism of which
      many postcolonial intellectuals are obviously guilty, but also from which the
      sorts of defensive, if also dismissive, comments that followed Bert’s important
      essay are hardly immune. In this rather limited reading of western thought
      Fanon is an unfortunate platform precisely because he immediately loses the
      complexity that Bert so eloquently attributed to him. Collapsing “white theory”
      with “western thought” is a double edged sword and on both counts blacks lose;
      it is as much a measure of shortsightedness in certain (obviously reactionary)
      circles of black critical thought as it functions, in the hands of some white protagonists,
      to underwrite and mask the privilege of ignoring or dismissing as “anti-white”
      potentially any criticism from the other side of the color line. Any brown
      maverick who would fancy herself to be in the company of, say, Freud in
      offering a middle finger to claims made in the name of that “theory and/or
      philosophy that is of “white” or “western” origin” immediately runs into a
      conundrum from which Freud is immune; are her hysterics anything more than “biting
      the hand that fed her” (after all, goes the thinking, where would we be without
      the happening of white ways of being that helped revolutionize our primitive forces
      of production – after all, the Marx of “The Indian Question” would concur) or a
      presumption “to pull down the master’s house with the master’s tools” (was it
      not the promise of modernity itself as manifested in Christianity and schooling
      that awakened her from a prehistorical slumber and into a realization that she
      after all, by right of creation and strength of character, belongs to the
      commonwealth of civilized humanity?). To be suspicious of “white theory”
      passing for “western thought” is not to deny the reality and positive
      consequences of white theory to the development of our modern South Africa; how
      else could we have so successfully made a white people out of the warring
      tribes of the late 19th century? On the very contrary. The point is
      simply to insist on a distinction between that bigger whale of global
      capitalism we have conventionally and conveniently termed “western thought” and
      the “native nonsenses” that inscribe a local set of relationships.

      To get back to western thought: As
      Bert points out it is discourses and counter-discourses of difference emergent
      with the birth pangs of this our common modern world that Said (1978) partly
      captured in his concept of Orientalism – partly, that is, because he
      unfortunately overlooked (as many have since pointed out) the place of oriental
      intellectuals in the development of this particular formation of western
      thought. Since then the peripatetic creole intellectuals of the New World have
      assumed a prominent, even preeminent, place in historical accounts of
      nationalism, at the same time as Mexico, to name one, has come to stand in a
      more than merely derivative relation to Paris and St Petersburg as a progenitor
      of modernism. From where I stand there is no quarreling with the idea that both
      nationalism and modernism are rooted on that same construct we call “western thought.”
      After all, Anderson’s creoles (just like Fanon, as Bert importantly makes
      clear) had read Plato; nor could it have been lost on them that their very
      projects of self-objectification, their visions of new departures, were
      mobilized within the grammatical strictures of those same Old World grand
      narratives. Indeed, their begrudging the fact of their belatedness
      notwithstanding, they have always been aware that they imagined liberated shores
      from inside the belly of the whale, and in this position they share the same
      fate as modernism whose jeremiads against the excesses of modernity Art Berman
      tells us are guaranteed to end in no significant alteration in the course of
      modernity – not the least because modernism can only do its thing inside of
      modernity, inside the whale. The one thing they knew, and the one thing we
      should be better off knowing, is that western thought itself, the Habermasian
      “unfinished project” of modernity, nay the big fish within whose belly we all
      dream of native fertile shores, is no longer – if it really ever was – white
      (oh hey! Does anyone even know if it is still freely roaming the open ocean or
      dancing for paying audiences at Sea World at the command of a young woman with
      a bucket full of fish?). Either way the “Nigger of Peter the Great” (of
      Pushkin’s unfinished story) has been outside his master’s “window to the west”
      (as Berman [1982] calls St Petersburg) and back again to help shape his master’s
      understanding of what lies outside that window – the rest of Europe and Paris in
      particular.

      But if we are all already inside
      same big fish (whatever its present coordinates) how come we often treat the tantrums
      thrown by creole figures and their postcolonial descendants differently from those
      of the mavericks of western philosophy invoked by Bert? When Descartes disavows
      tradition and promises to start us afresh in the quest for certainty and when
      Husserl, close to our time and still in pursuit of the same certainty, promises
      to restore us to an unmediated relationship to of objects in the world, we tend
      to react in less anxious ways: a) we read them back into the very tradition
      they disavow (aren’t there family resemblances between the Freudian structure of
      the psyche and Plato’s structure of the soul?) and note their contribution to
      its growth; b) we embrace them as liberatory voices that help us read the same
      tradition against the grain and, for example, connect the exile of fools to the
      development of reason; c) we appeal to history and sociology to explain the
      scary parts of our mavericks’ claims (didn’t the experience of the Thirty Years
      War erode the general populace’s confidence in the rationality of social
      institutions in Descartes’ time, or how prescient the scary parts of Husserl’s
      Crises of European Sciences read from this side of the ravages of 20th
      century wars and utilitarian rationalism that gave Husserl a frightened
      start?). In all these cases we hardly say “how dare” to the mavericks – we
      don’t even try hard to explain them outside the system from which they thought
      they were making a clean break. If anything, they remain now evidence that the
      system itself is self-reflexive and always already “cut of no same cloth” enough
      that the vocabulary for its own critique is already immanent. This is why a
      maverick of the Fanonian ilk is shocking; he does not seem to realize that for
      every claim to rationality that the tradition has made there is the Freudian
      arrow (inside and on the margins of tradition) ready to shoot. What the
      Freudian Fanon knowns, and we would be better of knowing this too, is that from
      where his stands Freud himself has first to be read against his own grain
      before he is ready to deploy in the Algerian context. The arrow is never complete
      in advance of the task and context of its deployment. In his attempt to argue
      irrationality into the very heart of western reason Freud had come up with a
      type of person who would be the prototypical ethnographic case study of the
      omnipresence of sentiments contrary to the normative side of our personality, a
      type of person who had the least repressive mechanism (civilization and
      individual effort strengthen this), who wore their libidinal forces and
      instincts just below the surface of the skin, who were prone to irrational
      outbursts, breakdowns, tantrums and untoward violence – to wit, children,
      women, savages (Fanon’s people) and people with mental illnesses. Fanon did not
      have the privilege of simply picking Freud up without shaking him a bit first,
      without, in other words, calling him on his presumption to collapse western
      thought with his masculine whiteness. I end again by emphasizing that this was
      no direct response to Bert, whom I thank for raising an important issue.

    • Allison Geduld

      When one reads “Black skins, white masks” you will see that it is in fact Carl Jung that Fanon discusses (and his idea of the collective unconscious) rather than Freud (even though he was the father of psychoanalysis).

    • nicholas

      @ Zolani Ngwane. Thank you Zolani for a gloriously
      evocative, almost poetic response: It’s taken some focused readings, but then so does Bert.

      There are undoubtedly
      issues where Fanon could have a valid point.

      Nonetheless to assert that all writers
      write from any other POV than themselves; and that this inevitable exclusiveness is repellant, is, as you trenchantly observe, of small account relative to the
      immense benefit that has accrued, as an outcome, to those who were previously excluded [a category btw that embraces working classes, genders as well as ethnic variances] …. from a hitherto unknown rich tapestry of theoretical and practical thought.

      And again remembering that
      Fanon was a man writing in the 1950’s and since that time, as you observe, the
      world at large has grasped and exploited this knowledge legacy and, wedded to their own senses of purposes, created what may more appropriately today be called ‘The Human Canon’ rather than simply ‘Western’…. To attribute the world of ideas circa 2015 as “western” / “white’ is simply at odds with reality and of little practical usefulness..

    • Richard

      Science is simply a collection of models we use in order to attempt to understand the universe around us. The fact that we frequently become better at predicting (for instance, which medicines are more efficacious, based on improved models) proves that what we think we understand is in fact only a semblance of “reality” (think of Plato’s metaphor of the cave). For this reason, knowledge is an invention (of the scientific kind, I mean) because it is not naturally occurring. The model used by the African witchdoctor is much less able to predict the course of disease, because it is based on elemental ideas that do not have much to do with the matter at hand. Questions about ancestors are quite natural (and thus not inventions), whilst the notion of germs is. What about the idea of atoms, and their cascading subdivisions, as far as our latter-day Higgs boson? Those are purely intellectual inventions: we do not even know whether atoms are waves or particles, so our model is obviously unsatisfactory. But, there is no reason to suspect that the model we now use would have been universally created: it is a particular by-product of Western thought.

      Think of the idea of musical notation: was this chanced upon elsewhere? Or indeed, polyphony, and its more sophisticated offspring, counterpoint. Were these aesthetic forms created elsewhere?

      If all societal groupings (and the notion of group and race has a large racial overlap owing to isolated breeding-patterns) had come up with the same ideas, even if propounded at differing levels of sophistication, I would say that you were correct. However, this is simply not the case. Certain chance inventions, perhaps (did Europe copy the Chinese in gunpowder, or invent it themselves?) did occur simultaneously in different locales, but can you honestly say that Einstein’s Relativity was just about there for Africans?

      Simply to say, oh well, these are human inventions is simply enlarging the net of attribution so as to make it meaningless. If you had patented something, would you be satisfied at hearing that your invention wasn’t actually yours, but everybody’s invention? You may as well say, oh well, it is the invention of all hominids, and then, of all life, including amoebae. You must consider the meaningfulness of what you are saying (can it be proven, is it falsifiable), and whether it is actually anything other than simply a sort of platitude, like a doctor telling a patient who is poorly, “Oh well, everybody dies, you know.” as an excuse for their ineptitude.

    • Bert

      Thank you to those who have made considered, reflective contributions
      Drew Smith, your response confirms exactly what Fanon believed about western culture.
      Paul Whelan and Zolani Ngwane, your anti-essentialist, pro-complexity responses are appreciated.

    • Peter Watermeyer

      I suspect, Richard, that you’ve never built anything! If you do, you’ll see that the science behind what you’re doing is real (and in the more basic forms, immutable) and not just a matter of abstract philosophy. It works! The fact that human understanding tends to be imperfect and subject to improvement doesn’t negate the basic concept that science and technology takes its form from underlying (non-cultural) realities, which ultimately dictate whether an idea is sound or not. Surely, during the course of understanding reality, we start with an idea (concept, theory, model, whatever). But much independent observation, experimentation, analysis etc ultimately may lead us to believe that we have here a true description of reality that can be reliably used for building things. And if you wish to advance to the frontiers of particle physics (beyond our mutual experience?) or any frontier, there is naturally a level of ignorance , but for most practical purposes, so what? Science and technology are driven by observations of reality, not by philosophising. Of course like Aristotle you can theorise that all heavy objects fall faster than light ones, but sooner or later a scientist like Galileo will find an experiment to determine what really works.

    • Rory Short

      I think each culture has particular orientations and not just one of them but a multiplicity. As I am of a Western cultural background I cannot speak for others cultures but what I am certain of is that all cultures have things of value to contribute to the human experiment. To condemn or downgrade any culture is just plain stupid and counterproductive to one’s own development.

    • Rory Short

      I actually do not mind where knowledge that helps me in my life comes from. My only measure for any item of knowledge is, is it practically useful to me? If it is then I take it on board no matter where it comes from. All knowledge that is useful to human life belongs to everybody. If we do not think like this then we are needlessly shooting our selves in the feet.

    • TheRealMidnite

      Man, you really are desperate to prove Fanon right, aren’t you?

    • ian shaw

      Robyn, I persoanlly used fuzzy logic to design complex systems for heavy industry. I am not the only one who did this in other fields of endeavour(such as, for example, psychology).
      From the enginering standpoint, this principle offers very practical advantages. It also introduces another way of looking at the world, especially for eager and talented university students who are accustomed to our bivalent way of thinking. In your opinion, is human progress advanced by seeing things in a new way? I think that from the pure mathematical viewpoint, multivalued logic is more general andthus more advanced than classical logic. Permit me to compare it with the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, where the latter is more general and more advanced. And to discover almost by chance that Oriental thinking patterns are very similar ( I have been an avid student of Chinese culture for more than 25 years) to multivalued logic, was an unexpected bonus which I shared with my friends and my students. Of course, traditionalists rejected this, often from racist viewpoints, but there has always been resistance to new ideas. At the same time, many Western researchers have shared my experiences.

    • orphan annie

      As an Indian friend uttered to me, what was God doing when he created us different colours. so whose to blame. Remember the Oppressor and the oppressed.